Bucking the trend

A principled former Premier League striker is raising money and awareness for charities in Africa. Dermot Corrigan explains

On December 30 last year, while most Spanish footballers were on their winter break, 60 African and European players were at Atlético Madrid’s Vicente Calderón stadium for a charity Champions for Africa game organised by Sevilla’s Frédéric Kanouté. Over 40,000 fans paid in to see a José Mourinho-managed Africa United team, featuring players such as Kanouté, Lass Diarra and Carlos Kameni, win 3-2 against a Spanish League selection captained by Sergio Ramos and including Kun Agüero, David Trezeguet and Juan Valerón.

“The footballers all gave their time without complaint,” Kanouté said. “Some of them are very interested in what I am doing. Others come because they know they are doing something good, and they do not ask too much about it. The match was broadcast live on Spanish TV and we were very grateful for the support shown by the fans who came.”

With competitions and corporate events held alongside, around €600,000 (£511,000) was raised in total. The proceeds are to be divided between UNICEF’s Schools for Africa programme, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Kanouté’s own personal charitable foundation. Similar matches in 2008 and 2009, which included the likes of Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o, Iker Casillas and Emmanuel Adebayor, also raised sizeable sums.

Former Lyon, West Ham and Spurs striker Kanouté established his foundation in 2004 while living in London, with the aim of helping orphaned and vulnerable children in Mali, the country of his father’s birth. The organisation now has branches in the UK, Spain and France plus its main site in Mali, the world’s third poorest country.

“The Sakina Children’s Village consists of a housing complex and health centre,” Kanouté said. “It received its first children in September 2010. It officially opens this March and should be full with 99 children in July 2012. The health centre and school will also be open to the neighbouring villages and a school and a skills training centre will be added in the next couple of years.”

More thoughtful than most footballers, Kanouté has been involved in his fair share of controversy throughout his career. While at Spurs the France-born forward annoyed David Pleat by switching allegiance to Mali just in time to play in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations. At Sevilla he refused to wear a jersey featuring the name of the club’s sponsor, the website 888.com, as gambling is disapproved of by his Islamic faith, and he has been fined by the Spanish League for celebrating a goal by lifting his jersey to reveal a T-shirt supporting the Palestinian cause.

However, while there is a certain Bono/Live Aid feel to organising a superstar football game, Kanouté eschews the short-term emergency relief approach. “This is long-term work we are doing together, not us telling them to take this money and build a well or take this money and buy some food,” he said. “Our approach is that poverty is the symptom of a lack of jobs and opportunities, so we are trying to do our bit by focusing on education and skills to break that cycle. We’ve already created 20 jobs in Mali, and this will increase when the school and skills training centre opens. Almost all of these people were previously unemployed, and everyone now supports a whole family with their salaries. We also have a livestock donation project, which helps provide a family with a small income.”

The idea that footballers are overpaid, selfish prima donnas who live in a bubble detached from ordinary reality gets plenty of play in the UK and elsewhere. Another perspective is that most western European football fans are also doing more than OK relative to billions of people in the developing world. Kanouté emphasises that he would like to see more footballers and fans getting involved in helping those less well off. “Many footballers are involved in charitable causes and also donate their own money, but there is room for improvement,” he said. “Everyone who is blessed with wealth and opportunities, not just footballers, has a responsibility to help those less fortunate, but I would not walk around and tell other people what they should do. The actual amount is not important as we can only give within our ability.”

For more information or to donate directly, see kanoutefoundation.com and championsforafrica.es

From WSC 290 April 2011